Not the Manifold Trail!

The Manifold Way is officially called the Manifold Track or the Manifold Cycleway. It follows the valleys of the River Hamps and Manifold and can be walked or ridden. The surface is tarmacked and traffic free for most of its length, but is shared with cars for a short section, including the tunnel. We will generally call it the Manifold Way as that is how the vast majority of people refer to it.

You will often see it referred to as the Manifold Trail. This is totally incorrect, the Manifold Trail is a longer walking route.

You start the Manifold Track at either Hulme End or Waterhouses. Starting at Waterhouses, you need to cross the main road. Starting at Hulme End, you have a traffic free section to begin, then you join the minor road to go through the tunnel at Swainsley. This section and a bit more is shared with cars but is not usually busy.

For More information about Peak District cycling ...

Cycling in the Peak District: Off Road Trails and Quiet Lanes

The Peak District (AA 40 Pub Walks & Cycle Rides)

Manifold Way Summary

The car park for starting the Manifold Way inWaterhouses is located behind the Crown Hotel (left and left again). There used to be a cycle hire centre here but that is now closed.

Map - click here

The other end of the Manifold Way is Hulme End. The car park is near to the station building which also houses a visitor shop and toilets.

Starting from Waterhouses, the first key point to look out for is Beeston Tor. This can be seen from the Track as a large cliff face. It is an esoteric limestone climbing venue and the cave was occupied in the dim and distant past. To reach it, you would need to stash the bikes and find your way over on foot. It's not really worth it unless you want to scope out the climbing.

Next is Thor's Cave - occupied by stone age people and still an attraction nowadays. After Thor's Cave, you can take a break at the Wetton Mill tea rooms, just over the pretty arched bridge. Suitably refreshed, you can remount your trusty steed and cycle onwards, past Ecton creamery and the former mine management buildings. You can then share the road with motorists and cycle through the tunnel at Swainsley and on to Hulme End.

White Peak Cycling

Image: Thor's Cave seen from the Manifold Way cycling track.

Thor's Cave - Manifold Way Cycling Track

The Manifold Track (Manifold Way) offers about 9 miles of almost traffic free cycling through the White Peak in Staffordshire. We prefer to cycle it from Hulme End for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there is no need to cross the sometimes busy main road at Waterhouses. Theoretically, it is a 30 zone but few motorists seem to respect it. Starting from Hulme End also means that the finish is flat rather than slightly up hill (unless you do the trail in one direction only of course).

The Manifold Way follows the route of the defunct Leek and Manifold Light Railway. Staffordshire County Council opened the Manifold Way in 1937 so it is an early example of a former railway being converted to leisure use. It offers a good tarmac surface and so is suitable for occasional cyclists as well as for wheelchair access. However, please be aware that there are some patches where the tarmac is breaking up and becoming uneven.

The Manifold Way is often mistaken for the Manifold Trail, which is a medium distance walking Route from Flash to Dovedale. The Trail does use parts of the Manifold Way but cannot be legally cycled for much of its length. The Manifold Track, however, is open to both cyclists and walkers.

The Leek and Manifold Light Railway

Image: taking a breather at Ecton Creamery

Taking a breather at Ecton Creamery

The Leek and Manifold Light Railway was an ambitious project conceived in 1896 by businessmen in Leek. They were worried that the new Buxton to Ashbourne railway would take away local trade. The new Light Railways Act was designed to encourage the building of railways in rural areas. So that is exactly what they did - they built their own railway! It cost £70,000 and 8 years later the line opened (June 27th 1904).

The track was narrow gauge (2'6") in order to keep both construction and rolling stock costs down. It was constructed by the Railway Engineer Everard Calthrop who had gained his experience in India. Needless to say, the two locomotives they owned were actually designed for use in India rather than the UK. The North Staffs Railway operated the line and built a connection from the Macclesfield to Uttoxeter line. The two lines met at Waterhouses.

Calthrop included 'transporter' wagons amongst the rolling stock in order to carry standard gauge rolling stock along the narrow gauge track. This saved time and costs of transferring the main cargo of the line - milk from Ecton Creamery.

A Basic Service

The line had ten stops, only two of which served villages directly - Hulme End and Waterhouses. Hulme End was the HQ of the line. The rest of the stops were basic platforms with wooden shelters. To reach the nearest villages passengers mounted steep unpaved paths up the sides of the Manifold Valley. Two halts offered refreshments (Beeston Tor and Thor's Cave).

The line was completely unviable and the track was removed in 1937 at which point it was given to Staffordshire County Council. The Council spent £6000 repairing fences, parapets and resurfacing to create their 'National Pedestrian Path' now known as the Manifold Way. It also became popular with cyclists who were officially banned from using it until 1981. It seems strange that 30 years earlier part of the route was opened to cars - or maybe they were not as dangerous as cycles at that time!

In More Detail

Image: the former HQ building of the Leek and Manifold Railway, now one end of the Manifold Track.

Hulme End, Manifold Track

There are car parks at both ends of the Manifold Way. The building at Hulme End was formerly the headquarters of the railway and now houses a souvenir shop and toilets. The route leaves the car park on a well surfaced track, wide enough for two people (or cyclists) to pass side by side. A little consideration from all users is needed here, and pretty much all of the way along the route. The Manifold Track widens out and brings you to a road section, at the entrance to the tunnel at Swainsley. This is the start of the mile or so that you share the route with motorised traffic.

Motor cyclists can be a real pain here as some of them seem to enjoy making multiple passes, throttles wide open. One time we were there, a couple of motorcyclists must have decided that the noise was not loud enough for them whilst they were at normal speed. Half way trough, they gunned their engines. The noise level naturally increased and my wife, not a confident cyclist in traffic, was quite distressed. The noise also badly scared and disorientated a small child with the family cycling just ahead of me. She struggled to stay on her bike and was so upset that she was left sobbing. The motorcyclists turned at the end and came back for a second run.

Traffic Free Cycling again

After completing this road section, the Manifold Way takes you past the site of Ecton creamery. The creamery was owned by Express Dairies and provided pretty much all of the freight on the line. The output of the dairy was measured in millions of litres per year, mainly destined for London.  When the creamery closed in 1932, the loss of incom was fatal to the line, which closed in 1934.

The milk was initially transported in traditional milk churns. These were loaded onto standard gauge wagons that were mounted on Calthrop's transporter wagons. A transporter wagon is effectively a short section of standard gauge track fitted on a narrow gauge chassis. The raised loading platform can still be seen, across which the milk churns were manhandled.

The output of the dairy increased year on year and could be measured in millions of litres. The use of milk churns was tedious and inefficient so Express Dairies started to use milk tankers. The bulk of the milk was destined for London and in the early 1920s, there were direct 'milk trains' to London from Waterhouses.

Ecton Mine

There is a bench so you can rest a while and soak up the atmosphere of the place. Look up the hillside through the trees, at the top of the village you can glimpse an impressive copper roof. This belongs to the former Ecton Copper Mine. It was the manager's house.

As you leave the Creamery halt, look up to the hillside on the east and you can discern some of the remnants of the Ecton Mine. Cavers frequently visit the mine and there is a footpath that takes you past some of the old entrances. This mine provided the money used by the Duke of Devonshire to build the impressive buildings of the spa town of Buxton.

Refreshments and Rocks

Image: Wetton Mill tea room on the Manifold Way

Manifold Way - Wetton Mill tea room

Further along the trail, cross a old bridge to arrive at the pleasant tea room at Wetton Mill. There is limited seating inside but in decent weather, there is plenty of outside seating including a large grassed area. After your tea and cake, carry on southwards to reach the next notable attraction, Thor's Cave.

Thor's cave has yielded artifacts that suggest it was occupied from the neolithic to Romano-British times. The finds include pottery, amber and bronze items, worked antler tools and a polished stone axe. Many of the other caves in the vicinity show similar evidence. The views are pretty good from up there and, in my opinion, it is worth the steep climb but note that the path up is muddy and slippery in wet weather. It can be quite a popular spot in the summer holidays and at weekends.

At the little caravan site, the Manifold Way bends round to the west. It follows the course of the river Hamps all the way to Waterhouses. From the bend, you can spot Beeston Tor, one of the traditional limestone climbing crags of the Peak District. It is unbolted and offers a few classic lines and great views from the belay ledge above the main routes.

A wild and Empty Place

The Hamps valley is a pleasant rural valley, wooded in places. When the line was built, the valley was devoid of trees and to any city tourists travelling the line, it would have seemed a wild and empty place. This part of the route has an uphill gradient towards Waterhouses, steady rather than steep. There is a farm offering teas part way along. Just as you approach Waterhouses, the route crosses the main road between Leek and Macclesfield so some care is needed.

Bike Hire

A final short climb brings you to Waterhouses. If you don't have your own bike, bike hire is available in the village. Also in the village, you will find a couple of pubs, one close to the car park and a cafe/chippy. Turn right by the pub at the top of the hill and you will find the village of Waterfall a mile or so up that road, with the Red Lion, another option for a great welcome with good food and drink.

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